Smoke and Mirrors.

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Long time, no post. This week has just
been very monotonous, with a lot of classroom lectures. Plenty of PowerPoints…
very few practicals.

The tedium, however, was broken today.

“Don’t let it hit the ground!”

Sgt. Paulson walked out to the recruits
clustered near the burn building. We were bullshitting and fidgeting—wondering
if we’d be able to get out early today—when we raised our eyes to a
quickly-growing speck outlined in the blue sky. It was a hand light, tumbling
towards a mass of regulation blue. Like so many bridesmaids reaching for a
bouquet, a few managed to get their hands on it (I think we still managed to
drop one, though).

We had one goal this afternoon: to fill
the burn building with cosmetic smoke and then empty it out with fans and smoke
ejectors. The concepts of positive/negative pressure ventilation can be quickly
explained, but seeing them in action seemed to help solidify our understanding.

A small machine on the floor kicked into
overdrive, sending clouds of fake smoke swirling around us (we were in the
“kitchen” area of the burn building, if the two rusted-out stoves were any
indication). 

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Smoke began finding its own way to the remainder of the building,
and we walked around in a quick orientation of the various levels and rooms.

Back outside, we watched the Sergeant haul
an exhaust fan onto the window ledge from the inside of the second floor; when
turned on, smoke could thus be sucked out through those roaring fan blades.
Alternatively, you could pressurize the entire building with a fan aimed into a
doorway from outside and let it vent out the upper windows; either way
increases visibility for firefighters and helps clear the air for victims stuck
inside.

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More on ventilation later, as it’s a
comprehensive topic that we’re not nearly done with (next week is all practical
instruction about ventilation and forcible entry).

The burn building is a fascinating setting
for pictures, just as a side note. The slight mist of a not-quite-fully
ventilated building, dark shadows cut by beams of light, and silhouettes of
recruits provide yet another surreal setting. Again, I felt like I was enclosed
in another world, but was able to step safely back into the afternoon sunlight
of my home planet.

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Alex Capece

Washington, D.C. Firefighter and Paramedic

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"For anyone who ever wanted to grow up and become a firefighter... from someone who did just that."
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